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Government launches 'roadmap' to tackle gender inequality

Experts welcome the government's plan to empower women in their careers and financially but warn of challenges

The UK government has published a report laying out plans to tackle gender inequality and low pay among women.

The Gender Equality At Every Stage: A Roadmap For Change report, published yesterday (3 July), sets out a 'roadmap' to help women financially empower themselves at each stage of their lives, from their education through to their careers and retirement.

Women and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt said it would “define and guide” how to tackle the barriers women face today.

In the foreword, Mordaunt said that, while women in the UK are more likely to achieve higher qualifications than men, they typically earn less.

"They are more likely to take on unpaid work, three times as likely to be working part time and likely to save less into their private pensions," she said.

“It’s clear that we as government need to act, following through on our commitment to ensure everyone in this country can reach their true potential. Business as usual isn’t going to cut it.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mordaunt said a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace would also be launched next week. This will include proposals to make employers responsible where a member of staff is harassed by another employee.

She also said she wanted to end paternity leave discrimination, improve the current childcare offering, ensure pension pots were taken into account in divorces and introduce employment rights for carers.

The report sets out the government’s plans on the following eight issues:

  • Encouraging sector-wide gender equality strategies and tailored equality initiatives for organisations, prioritising sectors that are strongly associated with one gender, including: health, education, retail, financial services, construction and engineering. Gender disparities in apprenticeships will also be looked at.
  • Assessing the effectiveness of gender pay gap reporting in exposing the causes of pay gaps and employers’ progress in tackling them
  • Launching a national campaign to help employers understand how they can help staff balance work and care, based on 'world-leading' research
  • Continuing to develop and test behavioural interventions to improve gender equality at work, including the publication of an actions for employers toolkit later this year
  • Investigating ways to make Universal Credit work better for women
  • Continuing to evaluate the shared parental leave programme. The government plans to have the evidence needed to consider how it can be modernised by the end of 2019
  • Consulting on dedicated employment rights for carers, including carer’s leave
  • Helping returners to identify job opportunities through Jobcentre Plus and helping businesses to offer and promote returner schemes

The publication also notes that the government wants both parents to be able to take 'active and well-informed choices' about balancing work and care.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, welcomed the report but urged against complacency. “We welcome this roadmap but we must chart an ambitious course. That means modernising our equal pay laws and a period of longer, better-paid leave for dads. It means placing a new duty on employers to prevent harassment,” she said.

“It means a real living wage and affordable childcare. It means transforming education to really challenge gender stereotypes. It means safeguarding women’s rights post-Brexit. It means more women in all their diversity in positions of power.”

Jeanette Makings, head of financial education at Close Brothers, commented that there are numerous factors at play and that women's generally poorer financial wellbeing is a complex issue.

“Progress is being made, but the stark gender imbalance in financial wellbeing is a reminder of the scale of the challenge that still faces female employees and their employers," she said. "With more women in lower paid roles women are being paid less and therefore saving less, to the detriment of their financial wellbeing. But it is not the only underlying cause."

She added though that employers can help by implementing thorough financial wellbeing strategies: “The pressures and financial circumstances of female employees are often different to those of their male counterparts, so the level and focus of financial education on offer needs to reflect that.

"But the good news is that these issues are solvable. Once the key pinch points for financial wellbeing have been identified, employers should be better prepared to provide tailored strategies to improve women’s financial health and confidence.”